Sunday, March 20, 2011

What to do with Christians in name-only?

Have you ever noticed that there are plenty of people around who openly call themselves Christians? Usually at work I'll make a passing reference to "my church" which many times will be followed up asking which church, and then they profess to likewise be Christians. But I'll tell ya, there wasn't any indication from their behavior up to that point that caused me to even think they might be a Christian on a bad day (or a series of bad days).

Even more troublesome to me are the professing Christians who attend gospel-preaching churches on a regular basis who, outside of church, act just like any non-Christian person. I have spent a lot of time recently trying to decide what to make of these church-going so-called Christians who act just like those in the world. This last group is the group that really bothers me, and I think the reason is because the world generally understands that real Christians go to church. Which is why I can understand how easy it would be to confuse a non-Christian who attends church regularly or semi-regularly with an authentic Christian.

True Christianity and true Christians produce a life of good works who agree with God's written word. I will add to this, for those who might be wondering (if I were a reader I would be one wondering), that Christians are sinners - redeemed sinners - but sinners nonetheless. We know our hearts and we know how terrible we are. Some of the thoughts we think, the words we speak, and the actions we take are many times wretched sins. But, Christians are a work in progress and we strive to please God above all else. Paul wrote to the Ephesian Church, "8for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light 9(for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), 10trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord." (NASB). This is not something that we are able to conjure up within ourselves, and for some reason that analogy of a man pulling himself up by his boot straps is fixed in my mind, but rather we need God to do this work in us. He must cause our behavior to change or it will never change. Sinners will go on sinning unless the Lord does a work in their heart.

Now that we have that out of the way, what are we to do with these ... so-called Christians? Or pseudo-Christians? Christians in name-only, but who are only putting on a show some of the time. The same Apostle wrote the following about such "Christians," "9I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one. 12For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?" (1 Corinthians 5:9-12, NASB). There is a careful distinction made by Paul between (1) immoral people of this world, and (2) any so-called brother. We are granted the freedom to associate with ungodly non-Christians but not with false-professors of Christianity who live like the ungodly. This passage goes on to quote from the Old Testament which reads, "Remove the wicked man from among yourselves." We ought to be careful the company we keep, especially when it comes to those who claim the name of Christ. I believe one of the reasons for this strict rule about not associating with Christians in name-only is because of the affect it can have on us as individuals and on our reputation.

Personally, when I meet a professing Christian who doesn't act like a Christian I will do one of two things. First, I usually try to discern if there is a possibility of him actually being a true follower of Christ. If he is, then I will do my best to encourage him in his walk with the Lord. If I am led to believe he is not a believer I will treat him like an unbeliever in the sense that I will preach the gospel to him and focus on the radical requirements of repentance God talks about in His word.

It wasn't only the Corinthian Christians who were concerned about this issue - many faithful today have the same concern, which is why I am so thankful for the God-breathed Scriptures and the clarity they offer on such topics.


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